March 11, 2014 10:30 am | Categories:
Leaders of the nation’s building trades unions might feel like it is Groundhog Day.
On Tuesday, they gathered yet again to urge President Barack Obama to approve the Keystone XL oil pipeline – this time suggesting there could be consequences for Democrats in the November elections.
“I urge the president of the United States to get on with it and approve that permit” to build the pipeline, said Sean McGarvey, president of North America’s Building Trades Unions, an alliance of 14 unions representing workers in the U.S. and Canada. He spoke at a news conference at a Washington hotel during the building trades’ legislative conference. “I think the White House needs to worry about November,” he said when asked what he and other building trades union officials would do if the White House doesn’t act soon.
Terry O’Sullivan, president of the Laborers’ International Union of North America who stood beside Mr. McGarvey at their press conference in Washington Tuesday, said his members view Keystone not only as a pipeline but also as a lifeline for good jobs. The construction unemployment rate remains high, he said, and his members who see Keystone as a partial fix will vote with that in mind in November if the administration doesn’t act.
On Wednesday, hundreds of people who have gathered in Washington this week for the building trades’ legislative conference plan to flock to Capitol Hill to urge lawmakers to support the pipeline.
“If they block good jobs,” union members “will be against them,” said Mr. O’Sullivan, who cited a recent Washington Post-ABC poll to support his view that most Americans are in favor of the pipeline. Not all unions are on board. The National Nurses United, for example, has cited concerns about increased air pollution and climate change.
The pipeline, which would carry oil from Canadian oil sands into the U.S. Midwest on the way to Gulf coast refineries, has set off a clash between environmentalists, who say it would quicken global warming, and unions and business leaders who see it as a way to fuel North America’s development as an energy-producing superpower.
In January, the Obama administration released a long-awaited analysis of the pipeline that concluded it probably wouldn’t change the amount of oil ultimately removed from Canadian oil sands. That was positive news for pipeline backers because it suggested the project would have little impact on climate change. It was also viewed as one of the last steps needed for the Obama administration to approve or reject the project.
But building trades union officials said Tuesday that the process has become too politicized and unnecessarily stalled after a string of hearings, State Department reviews and public comments. The Senate Committee on Foreign Relations has a Keystone hearing scheduled Thursday where representatives from the Sierra Club and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce will testify. Unions leaders said Tuesday that they expect it will produce more of the same information.
“It is now time to build the Keystone energy pipeline,” said Mr. McGarvey. “I don’t want to say it’s a fight but it’s been a conversation for five years now,” he said, likening the review process to World War II, but longer.